Here is something everyone can relate to: having the need to get somewhere quickly but constantly running into red lights. That seems to sum up the regulatory landscape created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) since its inception. Any regulation that the agency sets forth in promulgating faces a red light at every turn. I fully admit that at times, in an effort to develop the safest rule, the trucking industry has even been one of those red lights. As the recent highway reauthorization bill called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) begins to realize its full effect, the agency is hoping for fewer red lights and more green lights as it tries to meet the aggressive timeline set forth in the bill.
MAP-21 challenges the agency to develop 26 new regulations in 26 months, which works out to one regulation a month. To say that this is an aggressive undertaking would be like calling Noah’s Ark just a boat, since a standard timeline for rulemakings with few challenges often runs more than two years. That seldom happens in today’s regulatory environment because of the vastness of the industry and the opportunity to voice an opinion on any issue.
Issues such as EOBRs, hours of service, and entry-level driver training initiatives have taken longer than the standard timeline because of the contentious nature of these issues. And, yes, each of these issues appears yet again in the recent highway reauthorization bill, which obviously leaves me a bit skeptical about the agency’s ability to maintain the timeline that has been placed before it.
As my skepticism approached new levels, FMCSA went out and did something unprecedented to combat this dreaded timeline. It actually enlisted the help of the truck and bus industry to aid in facing this daunting task. FMCSA hosted a meeting, informed us of the problems it faces and the issues at hand, and essentially laid all of their cards on the table. In return, the trucking industry cooperated by providing constructive criticism to begin the dialog that could lead us down a new path in rulemaking—one that will help to avoid the problems that have happened in the past.
Now, am I saying that all problems will be fixed overnight by being part of the process at the beginning rather than at the end? Of course not, but at least it will aid in preempting some of the issues that have risen after the fact. The agency learned this important fact when it worked with its own Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. By getting the committee to work on an issue and come to a consensus agreement, a recommendation was made towards the development of a rule that will help aid in the process and will ease the industry to a safer finish line.
It’s a long road ahead for FMCSA, especially with this aggressive timeline for rulemakings bestowed upon it by Congress. Accomplishing a quarter of those rulemakings within that timeframe could be considered a feat. With the help of the entire trucking industry, however, FMCSA and trucking look to create rules that not only make sense when they are written, but will help save lives and hopefully advance a blueprint for rulemaking development in the next highway reauthorization that is just a mere two years away.
David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to Safety411@truckload.org.